What goes on in the summer at a resort famous for winter tourism?
In Whistler, the answer used to be not very much. Chris Quilan, morning host at Whistler FM, shared with me how quiet summers were when he first moved here in 1991.
“You could shoot a cannon down the street,” said Quilan. “Restaurants used to close in the summer time.”
But now, each year summer sees more and more tourists.
Whistler Blackcomb invited me along with a few print and radio journalists to check out the mountains last week.
To begin, we watched a video at the Roundhouse Lodge that showed a very different summer Whistler than in the winter. Couples and families hiked on the edges of mountains, bees swept over alpine flowers, bears and marmots lazed in the sun — all against a backdrop of snow-capped ranges, clear lakes and rivers.
We then rode the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that links Whistler Mountain with Blackcomb Mountain and holds world records for ropeway towers with the longest free span at 3.03 kilometres as well as with the highest point above the ground at 436 metres. If you’re lucky, or unlucky if you don’t do heights, you could find yourself riding in either of two of the 26 cabins that have glass bottoms for a view of the Fitzsimmons Valley below.
Arthur De Jong, mountain planner and environmental resource manager at Whistler Blackcomb, took us on one of the alpine hikes at Blackcomb.
“In the winter, we get this benign blanket of snow that covers nature, but is unveiled as we step into late spring and summer,” said De Jong.
It was hot down at the base. The peak was still fairly warm, but had a nice cool breeze. The views, flora and fauna were right out of the video and I felt like I was in a Mountain Equipment Co-op ad. Lush green, yellow and purple plants and flowers line the trail, and a hoary marmot appeared on a boulder and stood up proudly. These marmots are also known as “whistlers,” after which the municipality is named. Later we spotted a family of four bears walking along a creek.
Whistler Blackcomb staff joked the animals were paid to meet us on our visit.
A man of the outdoors, De Jong was circled by bees as he described the landscape. “What we’re trying to do is build experiences inside ecozones,” he said.
“The summer scene here is magic,” said David Lewis, evening host at Whistler FM. A North Vancouverite, he was enraptured by Whistler last August and decided to move here. He loves how the destination is a tight-knit local community coupled with tourists from across the globe.
Other activities include 50 kilometres of alpine trails for running and hiking, bike rentals, golf, zip lining, go-karting and various tours of the volcanic peaks and coastal rainforests.
The village in the summer is no longer the ghost town Quilan first experienced. Ironman Canada, Whistler Farmers Market and the Crankworx freeride mountain bike festival now fill up the summer months.
There’s even lounges with gaming consoles, just in case your children wish to trade in mountain views for screen activity.
There’s a lot to check out, even if you don’t hit the slopes.
“I always have this debate with my friends who live in the Rockies,” said De Jong. “They go, ‘Oh no, the Rockies are more beautiful!’ and I go. ‘No, no, the Coastal Mountains are. They’re younger.’ When I look in the mirror, I know how I looked 20 years ago.”